Designers these days spend a good amount of time on the Internet. Most of us are addicts of some ilk, whether it be Twitter, blogs, Facebook, news, or podcasts. So it didn’t take long for us to spring into action when we heard news of the earthquake-cum-tsunami-cum-near-meltdown in eastern Japan. We lent our support in the way we know how … by designing stuff.

Seemingly overnight, a flurry of posters popped up encouraging people to donate money to the Red Cross and other aid organizations. Many of these capitalize on Japan’s flag — itself a design icon — using different visual cues to associate earthquakes, flooding, breaking, and general stress to the otherwise ordered flag.

Mr. Conde
Weeping Sun, by Mr. Conde

Daniel Freytag
Epicenter, by Daniel Freytag

poster by Zac Neulieb
Amplitude, by Zac Neulieb

Angel Script from Veer

It’s not just posters, though. Veer joined in by offering a font download for a donation, and t-shirts such as that on Merchline all go towards the cause. Scout Books has a similar promotion, with a very Japanese design to entice a donation/purchase.

Scout Books
Scout Books Japanese design

t-shirt by Hydro74
T-Shirt by Hydro74

In recent weeks, editions of Bloomberg Business Week and The New Yorker both featured Japan-focused covers, making use of the sun and cherry blossoms, respectively.

Bloomberg Business Week cover
Bloomberg Business Week cover

The New Yorker cover
The New Yorker cover by Christoph Niemann

Once the smoke cleared, Japanese designers got in on the act taking part in a campaign to encourage the population to save energy — a move that will lessen the demands on the damaged power grid and help aid overall recovery and rebuilding. This collection is oh so Japanese.

Save Energy

Save Energy

Save Energy

This design reaction to the events in Japan reminds us of two things. First, it serves to reignite the conversation about cultural iconography. Japan, in this case, is rich in its own icons, from the rising sun flag, to the calligraphy of its language, to the block prints and etches of their pre-industrial age, to the playful and bold look of anime and video games. Designers the world over can use these tools to create new designs, referencing, but not mocking, the country of origin. Second, it helps refocus on the fact that design is, at the very heart of all things, a communication tool. Posters carry a message, and to drive that message home we need strong visuals, we need to connect to the audience and create an emotional impact. It’s an exercise in simple design, and basic graphic communication.

This post also appears on The Next Big Design, the blog of the FUSE Conference »